An Instant And Forever



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Scene Title An Instant and Forever
Synopsis After an altercation with Walter Trafford, Richard Cardinal arrives where he shouldn't be.
Date December 18, 2041

Darkness, vertigo, and a sense of endless falling. The world feels like it has ceased to exist, and what remains in its place is a void moving at the speed of light, blurring senses and sense of self. The sensation only exists for a fraction of a second, but the means by which it is experienced causes it to linged in the forefront of the minds of those who percieve the divide between time and space. Walter Trafford's ability to bend time and space wasn't ever as smooth as Hiro Nakamura's, didn't involve the same principles, wasn't even—in all truth—the same power. Yet to the casual observer, the differences were indescribable. Except for those who experienced it.

For those who traveled time, it felt like tumbling over the edge of a hill and falling for an instant and forever.

Wood planks explode with the force of a hurled body crashing through them. Flinders of dryrotted plywood and pine scatter across a cement floor aongside the heavier and more resolute thump of a human body landing on an unyielding surface. When Cardinal lands, it knocks all the air out of his lungs and sends a shockwave of dull pain through his left shoulder, hip, and knee. Not quite the same impact of a one story fall onto concrete, but close enough to blur the distinction. His ears ring, teeth vibrate, bones feel like they're singing a song about how bad this will feel tomorrow.

When his loaded handgun suddenly lands on the concrete with a clatter nearby, he sees it only as a black blur in double-vision. It would seem that in the infinitely long instant that Richard Cardinal was falling through time and space, the contents of his pockets were emptied out. A handful of space change rains down around him, glittering in late afternoon sunlight. Coins roll away, some under half-demolished and dust covered furniture. Others spin wildly before wobbling and falling over. Cardinal can't move, not yet. He lays on his side, a dull ache spreading through his all-too-corporeal body. When his eyes focus, it's on a single coin from his pockets' contents. A 2006 nickle that has somehow, against all odds, wound up balancing precariously upright on its edge after coming to a stop.

Blinking his vision clearer, Cardinal can see he's in a basement of a derelict building. Creeping ivy winds its way through fractured brick. Dust and debris litters the floor; some recent, evidence of his fall through a hole in what must be the ground floor, and some much older. High basement windows let in a prodigious amount of warm, goldenrod-hued sunlight, the iconic light of late afternoon on the verge of sunset. The air is hot and dry, hotter than he'd expect for New York. But then, as his thoughts collect, he realizes there's no guarantee he's even in New York anymore.

He has no idea where, or when, he is.

I hate time travellers so much,” are the first words that escape Cardinal’s lips after he recovers his breath, a mumbled curse into the void. Whether he’s talking about his impromptu journey to — wherever this is — or at the hands of Walter, his attempted murder at the hands of Joshua, or both isn’t revealed to anyone who might be listening in.

He doesn’t move, not at first, taking stock of the aches and formative bruises and pain that he’s feeling with the clinical analysis of one who’s long experienced in assessing damage to their own body. Much like a boxer, his isn’t a lifestyle that lends to a healthy body in the long term; it sometimes feels like he spends more time recovering than anything else. Is it any wonder he stays incorporeal so often?

A deep breath’s drawn in, and he slowly plants one hand against the floor, testing his strength as he starts to slowly push himself up to a more seated posture, feeling every twinge and ache but unwilling to rest until he knows he’s safe. And he has no guarantee of that.

“Okay, kid, where the hell did you put me?” The shadowmorph mutters as he looks around the floor, the scattered change, the pistol, fumbling to try and find his phone. If he can get service, that’ll tell him something. If he can get time/date from the cell network, that might tell him something else.

Retrieving his phone from among the scattered contents of his pockets, Cardinal finds it scuffed but still fnctional. It opens with a flip and on the tiny, now cracked, screen are some unfortunate identifiers.

No Service

That tells Cardinal something, at least. The time looks the same, but that doesn't correspond to what light level he's seeing from outside the basement. In the moment after checking his phone, Cardinal hears the flutter of small wings as a few scraggly sparrows land on the splintered beams overhead. They chirp and pirp with avian excitement, then flutter a hair's breadth away from the underside of the floor before disappearing into a nook in the basement wall.

Below that nook is an old metal shelf, stacked with dust-covered aluminum cans of food with faded labels, mason jars of indiscernible amber-colored jelly, and two olive-drab ammo boxes with their tops open. A hammock of spiderwebs is draped inside the open boxes. His eyes follow the webbing down to the floor, where spent shell-casings glitter under a thick coat of dust. But then, eyes down by the floor, Cardinal spots something unusual about the bricks in the wall. The masonry around the brick is chipped and crumbling and the brick itself has a faded red stencil of a bird on it.

“I don’t suppose that’s you, Eileen,” is Cardinal’s tongue-in-cheek response to the twittering of the birds, as dry in its humor as the dust on the floor of the basement he’s found himself in. The phone’s powered down, shoved inside his jacket. He’s been moved, either in time or space, he’s not sure which. Either physically outside the range of the cellular network, or to a time that it doesn’t exist - or is very, very different.

The man slowly pulls himself to his feet - grimacing as a shock of pain shoots up his side - with one hand braced on the wall. He steadies himself, then bends down, finding his shades on the floor and bringing them up to slip on his face, shielding himself from that honeyed afternoon sunlight. The basement’s taken in, the shelves, the hole above him, the windows. The supplies. A safehouse? he wonders, lips pursing a touch as he notices that stencil on the brick, the faded outline of red that looked suspiciously like one of his own symbols.

Outside the basement window, all Cardinal can see is a yellow-tinted sky muted by his sunglasses streaked with thin and wispy clouds. The edges of the window are ringed with broken glass, and scrubby shoots of weeds protrude in from the opening to intrude on a delicate design of spiderwebs.

Where the hell even is this,” he mutters.

Knees bend again as he crouches beside that cracked masonry, reaching out to trace a fingertip along the marking. Nudging the brick, checking if it’s loose; god - and Edward - know he’s found more than a few hidden things just waiting for him to recognize him before.

Testing it again, Cardinal finds it's rather intentionally loose. It wobbles, has just enough space to get fingernails around. Easing the brick from its spot in the wall, Cardinal finds a small storage space behind it, just a little bit larger than the brick itself and dug into the earth outside the foundation. Inside, a dry and dusty faux-leather case sits like an afterthought. A prickle of tension creeps up the back of Cardinal's neck as he slides the case out. It's something like an old sunglasses case, with tarnished copper fittings and a small latch.

With a furtive glance around the basement, Cardinal spies no obvious onlookers. Not even the birds seem to care much for this moment in time. Outside, there's just the sound of distant birdsongs and a strong breeze. Turning his focus back to the case, Cardinal pops them open and finds a broken pair of wire-framed eyeglasses. Unmistakably, impossibly, Edward Ray's glasses. Which Edward is hard to be sure, almost as much as the when of the situation.

Beneath the glasses is a folded piece of yellowed paper with a tattered fringe of perforation. It's old notebook paper, faded blue lines and all. The sheet is folded several times and when unfolded splits along its folds with the dry, brittle nature of a decades-old newspaper. Inside, a simple message is written in ballpoint pen in the equally unmistakable and impossible handwriting of Edward Ray.

There's no place like home. Improvise and play along.

At that precise moment, one carefully determined across the gulf of time an untold number of years ago, a sound breaks the silence outside of the basement. The rumbling sound of vehicles; loud and clunky, something like old diesel trucks.

The birds scatter from their nests.

That broken pair of glasses is cradled as carefully as a wounded bird in Cardinal’s hand as he turns them over, memory surging up to recall every time he saw those blue eyes looking between them.

And all the times he felt those eyes looking at him through time and distance, knowing where he’d be and what he was doing.

“Of course,” he murmurs, and then his shoulders shake with a sudden spasm of helpless mirth, “Of-fucking-course.” Chuckling rises up in his belly and spills past his lips, his eyes closing as he takes a moment to regain his composure. He’s in an unknown place, an unknown time, his nose is broken, he’s pretty sure he’s pulled a muscle in his side, his son that he’d never really met before that day had just tried to kill him… and Doctor Edward Ray was still pulling strings.

It was funny in a way that nobody who hadn’t lived his life could really understand.

Finally he composed himself, the broken glasses and the aged note tucked away with his dead phone, and he headed for the stairs at an unhurried walk. “Improvise,” he mutters as he walks, a smirk pulling itself unbidden across his lips, “Right. Got it. Play al—”

Just before the steps, he stopped, all the humor bleeding out of him. “Play along. Oh you son of a bitch, you can’t be serious.”

“Fuck. Worst adoptive parent ever. Fuck, fuck, fuck—” The litany of fucks continued up the steps, to where he could throw open the door and all but stumble out of it.

The building Cardinal passes through isn't a safehouse, or at least it doesn't look like it was ever intended to be one. Instead, it comes across more as a classic colonial brownstone. The stairwell gives way into a demolished kitchen. The windows were destroyed a long time ago, dusty glass litters the cracked tile floor along with dried leaves and dry mud. Vines grow through the open windows, paint peels in long strips off the walls, and there's an intense sense of something dreadfully wrong with the scene. It isn't until Cardinal reaches the kitchen door that leads out into a small, overgrown garden and the source of the engine noises that it really is able to hit him.

Out the door, there was a garden. Green gave way to brown too long ago for anyone to remember. An old bird-bath is stained where water once filled it. Now just dead leaves and a crumpled and sun-bleached old plastic bottle remain. Beyond the garden, though, are the slouching remnants of once affluent brownstones lining a sun-baked street. The pavement is cracked and tall stands of dead grass grow up from between the fissures in the asphalt. Parked on that demolished road are four battered military SUVs. Though while they're analogous to a HUM-VEE, there's design aesthetics that don't fit something of the time. Rough-looking men in mis-matched tactical uniforms are fanning out from the trucks, each of them armed with varied assault rifles that would look more at home on his familiar end of the 21st Century, of which Cardinal is suddenly certain he is no longer in.

Beyond the dead garden, beyond the ruined brownstones, grasping fingers of gutted skyscrapers line the horizon. Not recently destroyed, but something demolihsed decades ago. The sky is an unnatural shade of yellow, streaked with gray and white clouds, and the sun burns with an unmitigated intensity that prickles the skin. Above the ruins there is a monolith of white stone, broken at the middle like a vandalized grave and bristling with rusted tines of exposed rebar. Even halfway destroyed, the Washington Monument is unmistakable.

"Contact!" One of the seven armed men shouts, snapping Cardinal's attention from the scene of desolation. In that moment he notices the wrecks of fire-gutted cars nearby. Rifles are poised, a fist is raised into the air to hold, and Cardinal hears the hith-pitched whirr of small engines overhead. A shadow casts over him, and up against the yellow sky flies an X-shaped drone of some kind, small turbines at the end of each arm and a spherical camera of some sort at the crux. Its camera pivots, followed by a green light flashing and a quick chirp.

"Positive ID! Repeat, Positive ID!" But the guns lower at that, rather than open fire. The wariness of these armed figures seems to relent, and Cardinal is left holding the proverbial bag.

Play along.


As the guns are swept in his direction, as the drone’s engines whir to life, Richard Cardinal slowly raises both hands into the air so as not to antagonize the paramilitary commandos outside. At the call of ‘Positive ID’ his arms go down at the same speed as the assault rifles, and he brings one hand up to edge his shades down just a little - hiding a wince as a knuckle brushes his broken nose - and regarding the men over their edge.

“I’ve had a hell of a day already, and now this,” he drawls out, “You boys done pointing your guns at me, then? Good.”

The skyline is noticed, recognized, but he holds his poker face as he starts towards the men, demanding curtly, “Well, since you’re done with that, someone give me a situation report.”

The armed men all respond with a look of momentary bewilderment, followed by a clearly deferential silence. A moment later, a door on one of the middle-placed vehicles opens and a white-haired old man in a long, brown overcoat with a respirator mask covering his mouth and nose steps out of the vehicle with uneasy gait. The figure is immediately met by one of the armed men, who walks beside—but pointedly does not steady—the figure. As he draws closer, Cardinal can see hoses coming from his plastic respirator, going to an air tank held in his shaky, liver-spotted right hand. The soldiers continue to remain awkwardly silent until this weary, sagging old man can clear the distance.

"Richard," he wheezes, removing his respirator to talk. "You're going to have to tell me how you did that." Up close, there's a dawning recognition on Cardinal's face as he realizes he's staring into the cataract-clouded eyes of none other than Institute operative Desmond Harper, decades senior from Cardinal's point of origin in time. "Let's…" he wheezes, gesturing back to the vehicles, "talk and move?"

“Clean living and a good heart,” is Cardinal’s dry response without missing a beat, spending the time gained by giving the older man a long look. Memories of the man that Desmond Harper once was stirred in stark contrast to the near-invalid standing before the shadowmorph.

Then he’s clapping a hand on his shoulder, an excuse to help the old man balance as he starts to move towards the vehicles as well. “Sounds like a plan, Harper. We don’t want to be exposed for too long out here.”

Harper is quick, as much as he can be, to return to the relative comfort of the armored vehicle. He makes a gesture with his free hand, and the soldiers all return to their respective vehicles as well. One of them calls out, "Convoy on!" It rings out behind Cardinal, a sign of their impending movement. Harper lets Cardinal into the back of the vehicle first, a dusty and bullet-hole riddled vehicle with no creature comforts, hard and unforgiving seats, and dried blood stains on the canvas upholstry.

Once he's inside, Harper is helped in by a sodier who circles around the vehicle and climbs in the passenger side. The driver is, curiously, not even present. There is a mass of machinery in the driver seat and no steering wheel to speak of. The whirr and click of electronic equipment accompanies the machinery as it hums along. "Cut the shit," Harper rasps once his door is closed and he's safely inside. "Walter took you, the whole fucking thing erupted into a catastrophe. We lost Natazhat, lost the receiver." He breathes, labored, and takes a moment to catch his breath before continuing. "Hesser's been scanning for you for years. We never gave up."

Grimly, Harper places his respirator over his mouth and draws in a breath as the vehicles begin moving. "What happened on your end?" Harper asks, gray brows furrowed and hand holding his mask unsteadied by arthritic tremors.

“Years. Years.” It doesn’t look like his absence made the world any better. Once the boulder started rolling, Richard supposes there wasn’t anything to stop it.

He sinks back against the hard seat, one hand coming up to pull off his shades and the other bracing thumb and fore-knuckle against his eyes to rub at them. “Christ, I’ve got a headache. What do you think happened? That meddling little brat dragged me elsewhen and I had to find him, force him to send me back. Guess he got the last laugh by missing the mark by a few years, though.”

His hand drops, and he regards the old man for a long few moments. “What’s the current situation? What’ve I missed? What — who — do we have left?”

Harper remains quiet for a moment, then takes a breath from his respirator. Outside the vehicle's windows the ruined landscape of Washington D.C. rolls past. Buildings here look flattened by artillery strikes. The convoy goes off-road, driving across the green by the Washington Monument, then back onto the road, weaving between piles of stone debris. Twisted, razorwire fences are toppled everywhere, barricades fallen, but all of it is overgrown. This happened, but this happened a long time ago.

"This is effectively everything. Our mobile command center is all that's left of the Institute. There's a dozen more security, a few from the engineering staff, myself, and Hesser. After the raid, they kicked in the door on everything. The Government took down assets that fled from the strike, and we were scattered in the wind." Up ahead, Cardinal can see a large, dark shape coming into view. It looks like a squat, oversized cargo plane with a bulbous body and four turbine engines parked in the middle of what was once a freeway. The aircraft is between a multi-prop helicopter and a plane. One loading bay is opene on the back, large enough for a handful of trucks to enter. "We managed to save one Hoplite," he indicates with a gesture to the aircraft they're closing in on.

"After you disappeared, everything fell apart. We had no way to retrieve messages from the past—nothing reliable, anyway. All we could do was hold out hope you'd be able to follow through with the backup plan. But," Harper frowns, looking around with a shake of his head.

"Nothing changed." Harper's words are a resignation, almost as much as they are an epitaph to whatever history played out here. "Did… the Mallett Device not work?"

The Mallett Device. A Hail Mary into the past, to change things from the very beginning. What was it that the Professor had said? "A record of history passed backwards in the hopes of building a better tomorrow for someone."

What was it that was written on that silly picture on the Professor’s door, though? One of Edward Ray’s quotes.

“Time,” Cardinal exhales a sigh as he watches out the window as they go, at the vine-choked barricades, at the impact craters where once there were buildings, at the burnt-out remnants where once tourists gawked at the machinery of government. “Time… is not a line, Desmond.”

A few moments of silence, and he adds - his faint reflection looking back at him in the window - “Certainly doesn’t look like it worked, does it.”

"Then you have to go back and start again," Harper admits with a furrow of his brows and a wild look in his weary eyes. "We have evidence, facts," that said with a hint of desperation. "Proof that the future can be changed. We can prevent all of this, weather the storm, and come out the other side. You sold me on this Richard, we can't—" Over-exerting his voice, Harper breaks into a fit of coughing, one hand clutched to his mouth as the vehicle rumbles and jostles over rough terrain that was once a freeway. Outside the window, four deer bound out from behind a tumble-down brick wall, cavorting over ruined stone, and then out of sight through a stand of stick-bare trees.

Once Harper's coughing-fit has subsided, he takes a deep, rasping breath from his respirator. Once he's sure it's passed, he looks to Cardinal with worry. "The Darkness," he implores, "was proof. We can wipe the slate clean." The vehicles begin slowing down, on approach to the idling aircraft. "What other hope do we have?"

“I’m keenly aware of that, Harper, do you think I’m just going to roll over and die?” A sharp rebuke from Richard Cardinal, head turning to fix the invalid with a glare that holds only a fraction of how much distaste he actually has for the man across from him. There’s silence held for several long moments as the vehicle jostles and rumbles down the road, and then he turns to look back out the window.

“What time travellers are still extant that we have any data on? If we can’t rely on the Mallett Device, we’ll have to do things the old-fashioned way,” he observes tightly, gaze lingering on the shattered spire of the Washington Monument as it’s briefly visible between ruined buildings.

It’s true enough. He sure as hell has no desire to be stranded in this hell of a future, even if another him is the one that made it.

"Hesser predicted the ripples of temporal manipulation before your arrival," Harper notes, looking out the window as the vehicles slowly roll up the deployed ramp into the bay of the aircraft. "She detected a second ping in the Arizona Bay Exclusion Zone. We don't know if it's the same temporal manipulator, but the odds are high. Our plan," Harper pauses, offering Cardinal a look that implies a deferential unless otherwise directed, "is to get wheels up and follow Hesser's assessment and attempt a capture."

The vehicles finally roll to a stop after dividing into a pair of tightly organized rows in the cargo bay of the aircraft. The doors are opened from the outside, and a rag-tag gang of soldiers helps Harper out from his side, while a tall and dark-haired woman greets Cardinal's side with a firm, "Sir." She offers out a battered-looking tablet. Behind her, soldiers strip their body armor and weapons, handing them off to other support staff that slot the firearms into racks on the wall and heap the body armor into wheeled bins. "You look—" Hesser's brows raise, "you look well. Here's our situation report, I imagine you'll want to re-acclimate to the timestream. We've prepared a private room for you, per your earlier specifications. I can show you to it, unless you and Commander Harper had any further business?"

“Given what you’ve told me of our current position, that sounds like a sensible plan,” is Richard Cardinal’s approval of Harper’s words, chin dipping in an almost absent nod. He’s thinking, a hundred miles an hour, trying to put together his own plan. He needs more pieces, though. "It seems likely it was Walter. He'll do. If not, whoever it is - they'll have to do."

Fortunately, as they exit the vehicle, there’s someone to offer them to him.

“I’ve been dieting,” is the dry quip to Hesser’s bemused compliment, reaching out to take the offered tablet with a quick, tight smile for the woman. “No, I think Harper deserves a rest right now. I’ll take the room and some time to get myself— ” A pause, “— settled. So to speak.”

"Of course, Sir." Hesser makes a forward-moving gesture and leads Cardinal past the paired rows of parked vehicles as the cargo bay door slams shut behind them. Harper is escorted away on the other side of the aisle, up a narrow flight of metal stairs and out of sight. Cardinal, however, is kept on the same cargo floor. Hesser takes him through a bulkhead door, which on the other side is devoid of the louder engine noises that the cargo hold was ringing with. It's replaced by an audible, but intentional, white-noise hum.

On the walls, Cardinal sees stencils in white indicating DC—H47-00 — Hoplite and below that an arrow pointing ahead that reads Crew Quarters. Hesser moves briskly down this otherwise empty corridor as the vehicle lurches into movement. Then, she stops at a bulkhead door and opens it, revealing a small and dimly-lit room with a single metal-topped desk, a fold out cot, and a battered-looking portable radio with a bent antenna that looks like something from the 1990s.

"Call up to the command deck if you need anything, sir." Hesser motions to a button on the desk when she says that, then waits to see if Cardinal has anything further for her.

At the sight of the room, its cot, its desk, its battered radio, Cardinal can’t help but smile. Per your specifications, she said. Sometimes it was painfully obvious that Ezekiel and he were still the same man.

“Thank you, Hesser, I will. Your continued loyalty is…” A long pause, glancing back over his shoulder with a weary smile, “…appreciated.”

He should probably be getting some medical care before anything else, but instead he’s walking into the room and closing the door in his wake. He needs information, desperately, if he’s to keep up this facade. And if he’s to escape back to his own time.

The pain shows finally in a grimace as he limps over to the desk, letting the weakness show now that he’s in private, and eases down to sit. The tablet’s set down on the desktop, and he thumbs it on. “…wonder if ALIA’s still online,” he mutters under his breath. She might well have been obliterated with their bases, after all, depending on where she was being stored.

The tablet shows a map of the United States, though one that has political lines drawn in different configurations than Cardinal is familiar with. Perhaps its because Arizona was mentioned, but when his eyes wander there he notices the shorelines encroached on and that Arizona now abuts what was once the Gulf of California, now listed on the map as the Arizona Bay Exclusion Area. A chain of islands to the west may have once been Baja. This isnt the Flood future, but it looks like climate change may have done some of what Kazimir Volken intended at a slower pace. At the top of the tablet, Cardinal's eyes scan a dateline: December 18th, 2041. It's December in Washington D.C. and the exterior temperature has to be near 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Curiously, it doesn't appear to be connected to any kind of network — wireless or otherwise — and is directly loaded with information. But what it is loaded with is cimprehensive to the point of astounding detail. The tablet appears to have belonged to this time's Richard Cardinal and has the designation "Director Richard Cardinal — Institute Executive Operations" as a ribbon below all of the onboard applications. For being decades newer technology, the interface is surprisingly intuitive. It's all touch-screen oriented, like Apple's new iPad device, and for whatever reason the design influence doesn't appear to have gone very far. Maybe people had more pressing things to worry about.

Sitting at the desk, Cardinal has time to thumb through the information, all of it. There's a general breakdown of events, a historical timeline with Cardinal's own notations in where adjustments could best be made, effectively a virtual string map. According to the sequence of events, after the defeat of the Vanguard in Antarctica, Cardinal was sponsored by Sarisa Kershner to a government position to lead a new research and development arm of the government from formerly mothballed Pinehearst technology: the Institute.

But, Cardinal never intended to be a government lapdog. It appears as though he fought against tyranny from the inside, using his growing power and influence to try and affect change. Time and again, however, he would find himself forced to compromise his morals to remain secure in his position. Eventually, he would become complicit in some of the most horrific atrocities of his time. Eugenics experiments, development of Evolved-targeted sterilization technology, developing advanced robotics used to hunt down and kill people he once called friends. Yet through all of this, the people that made up Redbird and Endgame were still around him. Claire, Elle, Elisabeth… until one by one they couldn't bend any further, and turned on him.

As it so happens, World War III changed everything in the 2020s. Conventional and, in some places, nuclear war. War between Evolved and Non-Evolved with the Department of Evolved Affairs pulling strings within the US Government. The Institute, as a government operation, crumbled from within sometime during the war and Cardinal was forced to flee to Alaska with his allies. But by then those numbers were already thinned. He'd betrayed his own kind for the "greater good" and failed, leaving a wake of corpses and vengeance following him.

It all appears to have come to a head in August of 2037 when the children of the people who'se lives Cardinal had ruined came calling. Cardinal had begun construction of the Mallett Device, to send a message back in time to himself to change things. But, it all broke down. He needed power for the device, more power than the hobbled US or Canadian grids could offer. More power than solar or geothermal. The only available solution was Robert Bishop Jr., the young son of Elle Bishop. He was kidnapped and physically hooked into a machine designed to siphon his nigh-inexhaustable electrical power.

Somewhere in here, Elisabeth had died, but there's no details on how or why. It's clear, in so much as anything Richard does is, that this may have been what pushed him over the edge. He believed — believes — that he can change history. Prevent this all from happening, no matter the cost.

But it all failed. The children of the world's pain and suffering came for their friends, came for their vengeance, and destroyed everything. The updates to the file in the time between 2037 and the now of 2041 appear to have all been made by Harper. Walter Trafford and Cardinal were caught up in a discharge of energy and Evolved powers that overclocked Walter's ability and caused them both to disappear from time and space, from the perspectives of 2041.

Worst of all, none of this makes sense.

None of this mentions Simon Broome, none of this mentions Jean-Martin Luis, no mentions of the Ark under Cambridge, none of this mentions Cardinal arriving in the distant past and getting his brain cut out by Samson Gray. It's as if nothing ever happened, as if the entire sequence of events hasn't clicked into place yet. It's like he's a needle on a record, skipping around a track that's already been played. The cognitive dissonance is enough to send Richard closing all of the applications. He pinches the bridge of his nose, exhaling an exhausted sigh, and then opens up a database application, scanning for a ray of hope.

Ray, Edward — deceased
Varlane, Magnes — deceased
Bishop, Elle — deceased
Ruskin, Eileen — deceased
Gray, Gabriel — deceased
Chavez, Alia — deceased;deleted
Lee, Lashirah — deceased
Ryans, Benjamin — deceased
Ryans, Nicole — deceased
Gitelman, Hana — deceased;deleted
Raith, Jensen — deceased
Bennett, Noah — deceased
Bennett, Claire — deceased
Petrelli, Peter — deceased
Nakamura, Hiro — unknown
Chesterfield, Catherine — unknown
Harrison, Elisabeth — deceased
Astor Gray — unknown
Adel Darrow — unknown
Joshua Harrison — unknown
Ingrid Ryans — unknown
Benji Ryans — unknown
Jolene Chevalier — unknown
Hannah Sumter — unknown
Kincaid Russo — unknown
Walter Trafford — unknown
List Incomplete: Please Refine Search

He finds himself left wanting.

Richard Cardinal leans back in his chair, head falling back to gaze up, unseeing, at the ceiling. It’s not every day that you’re handed a list of atrocities that you committed on your own friends, allies, and loved ones for the greater good, but he can’t let that affect him. Not yet. Compartmentalize, figure out the next move, and take it.

He’s been left with a board that doesn’t have many pieces on his side of it. The glasses he feels in his jacket pocket suggest that there is a winning strategy, though. Or at least a way to survive.

His head falls back forward, and he stares at the tablet. It doesn’t make sense. None of it does. Even removing his alternate self’s trip backwards, and the kids’ journey as well, this timeline should’ve been rent asunder the moment Sarisa Kershner made him a very tempting offer - and he said no.

Their understanding of time was linear, though. A single timeline progressed forward until terminated and the course of time altered. The Darkness seemed to verify that, appearing in each timeline just before its termination. And yet…

Time is not a line.

He shook his head. He didn’t have time to worry about temporal physics, not when he was looking for a way back from where he was. Most of the people he knew, he relied on, were dead and gone… or hated him. There were other names he could search for, but… this far in the future, what would be the point?

He was alone.

He leaned over with a sigh, snagging the radio and switching it on to scan the airwaves. Maybe he'd hear something useful. Or a good song, at least.

The radio whines with static up one end of the dial and down the other. Ghosts of voices occasionally flit across the channels, but given how radio signals can bounce around the ionosphere long after they're broadcast, that may literally be what they are. After a moment, Cardinal notices that there's an actual CD player in the top of the radio. Switching the input with a click, the radio static goes dead, and when "play" is pressed there's a strumming acoustic guitar, haunting in its distant familiarity. But then, the voice…

Oh, my baby if you're crying

Rest your head on me

You have angels standin' round your bedside

You have angels watching out for you

It's Else Kjelstrom, singing from beyond the grave and across the rifts of time. Hearing the long-dead prophet's voice sends a knot into the center of Cardinal's chest, brings back memories of the flash-forward before the riots, of everything that's come before and since. It's aa heady wave of nostalgia that neither he, nor his future self appeared to be immune to. But this song is one he's never heard before.

Oh, my baby if you're wanderin'

Lay your secrets out for me

I have love that's overflowin'

I have nothin' but faith in you

Leaning back in his chair, Cardinal is surrounded by Else's song. Left to imagine what may be transpiring, what has transpired since his disappearance in April of 2011. It's a tangled knot of histories, and this future doesn't account for any of them. A tightness hitches in the back of Cardinal's throat, an involuntary sense of something painful unrelated to his lingering injuries.

Worry not my darlin'

Worry not my son

Child when the wasteland is a'callin

You'll have angels with you to lead the way

The voice of a son he never raised echoes in the back of Cardinal's mind, the resentment and hatred seething behind rage. Then there was Walter. Walter. One hand comes up, and Cardinal presses fingers at the bridge of his nose, eyes wrenched shut. The guitar echoes off the walls, Else's voice echoes off his soul.

Worry not my darlin'

Worry not my son

Child when your life don't seem so easy

You'll have me to hold you in my arms

When his hand falls away, Cardinal can see he isn't alone in the room. The fluorescent light above the door stopped flickering, shedding instead a steady and static illumination. There, standing beside the desk with one hand on the radio is a familiar dark-haired Japanese man dressed head-to-toe in black, with a sword strapped to his back. Hiro Nakamura levels a steely look down to Cardinal, lips pressed together into a thin line.

Oh, my baby when you're fightin'

Lean yourself down on me

I will be that strength you need to keep on goin'

I will be that hope to lift you up again

"I went looking for you," Hiro explains, brows furrowed intently. "When I didn't find you, I tracked down Rhys in your time." He doesn't bother, or perhaps realize, that he needs to explain who that is or why he had to track him down. "Between him and Molly, I was able to figure out how to find you. Then," he inclines his head to the side, "a process of elimination."

Oh, my baby if you're watching

Know I meant the best for you

We have shadows in our pasts

We have shadows leadin' us all astray

One hand moves up to the hilt of his sword at his back, and Hiro draws in a slow breath. "I'm at a crossroads, Richard." Hiro looks tired, worn from a journey longer than any one person should ever have to be stretched across. He looks older than the last time Cardinal saw him, but only just so. "We're all at a crossroads right now."

Worry not my darlin'

Worry not my son

Child, when the road just seems too long

Then the end ain't that much further away

"Do I kill you, here? Does any of that matter?" Hiro looks visibly conflicted. "Do I let you go, to live in this wasteland?" Then, with his jaw set he asks, "Or do I take you home, and hope that the future can change?" The question isn't rhetorical. The answer is important, probably the most important it's ever been. And it all falls on Richard Cardinal to decide.

Worry not my darlin'

Worry not my son

Child, when the future seems too painful

Come back home and I'll hold you in my arms

“It did change.” The words are left to hang in the air for long moments as Cardinal looks back at the time-jumper for long moments. There’s no surprise. As soon as he heard Else’s voice… well. He’s not surprised to see Hiro Nakamura.

Worry not my darlin'

Worry not my son

The man out of time leans forward slightly, meeting the other man’s eyes as he repeats in sharper tones, “It. Did. Change.”

Worry not my darlin'

Worry not my son

A hand sweeps out, grabbing the tablet, waggling it in Hiro’s direction. “This is wrong. The records in here…? Half of them never happened. They’ve already been changed. People died. People lived. Events— events were altered. The future did change.”

Child, when the future seems too painful

Come back home and I'll hold you in my arms

“So. You’re the expert. Whether you kill me or not, you owe me this much of an explanation, at least. WHERE THE FUCK ARE WE?

Worry not my darlin'

Worry not my son

Hiro's jaw tenses, but at the same time his grip on the sword relaxes. He swallows, dryly, and looks askance to the radio playing a haunting song of the now, written in the then, existing somewhere between. Cardinal's question is one Hiro had been trying to determine for a long time, one that's haunted his decisions both past and present.

Worry not my darlin'

Worry not my son

"If we're all not careful," Hiro begins in a hushed tone of voice, resting a hand on Cardinal's shoulder. "This is forever." And with that, both Hiro Nakamura and Richard Cardinal disappear from the Hoplite with a rush of displaced air.

Child, when all else is taken away

Remember me and I will show you the way home

October 7th, 2011

Roosevelt Island, New York

Richard Cardinal appears with a flush of autumn cold, cast in the jaundiced glow of street lamps in the isolated park on the northern end of Roosevelt Island, just past the Suresh Center. Night has fallen on New York, and a harbor patrol boat rumbles past in search of illegal river traffic. Sights and sounds of the city fill his ears, and the knot in the center of Cardinal's chest is as tight as ever.

The ache in his side, stabbing, reminds him of his injuries and sharpens his focus. The tablet wasn't in his hand anymore, stolen by a trick of time and space somewhere between now and never. Hiro Nakamura was nowhere to be seen, and yet, Richard knew that wouldn't be the last time they crossed paths. There was too much left to do.

The choice had been made. They stood at the crossroads with the choice of leaving it all behind, and in the end the unconscious decision to return brought them all back home.

There was still work to be done.

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